business news in context, analysis with attitude

There was an interesting column by Lee Gomes in the Wall Street Journal the other day that reflected on the 30th anniversary currently being celebrated by Apple Computer. Gomes did something that a lot of commentators didn’t do – he went beyond the iPods and the computers and the operating systems that have made Apple unique and allowed it to persevere despite the overwhelming competition. Instead, he focused on an idea:

"The idea is that moral values can be attached to technological objects; that certain kinds of technology are inherently more ethical than other kinds; and that, by extension, the simple act of owning or using one particular kind of technology somehow makes you a better person than you'd be if you didn't."

While Gomes suggests that sometimes Apple has veered into self-importance and self-congratulation, he concedes that even today, the image – if not the reality – of Apple Computer's ethos is able to tap into something primal in many people's hearts and minds, and do so without the customer actually breaking a sweat. "It's hard to spend your life working for peace, justice and a society rich with opportunities for all," Gomes writes. "It's pretty easy, though, to buy a computer and tell yourself that by doing so, you're somehow still helping to fight that good fight. Good deeds became equated with good shopping."

I think he's onto something here, something that the MNB community has discussed from time to time. Too many companies talk about value without talking about values…and in an era when differentiation is key to success, it is critical for a business to establish clearly and unambiguously what its values are.

That may be why Wal-Mart seems to be having so many problems of late. Mixed messages. It is for low prices, but it opens an upscale store in Texas. It talks about sustainability and increased organics, but is accused of exploiting its employees and denying them basic healthcare benefits. Wal-Mart wants to be shopped, wants to be respected…but lately it seems like it also wants to be loved. That may not be possible, especially because so many different values messages are being communicated to shoppers.

And, it may be why so many traditional food retailers are suffering. No values…at least, none that are being communicated to consumers in an ongoing and compelling way.

That's a mistake.

I hope that when you read MNB each day, you have a sense of the values that drive the writing and the observing, and that you see the value in spending time here each day. You may not always agree with the values expressed and held here, but that's okay, as long as there is open and frank sharing of opinion and feeling.

Which is the best value of all.

I have a couple of older movies, out on DVD, to recommend this week.

One is "The Conversation" (1974), which I went back and watched because of all the debate about domestic wiretapping in the US. Written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola between the making of "The Godfather" and "The Godfather, Part II," this extraordinary movie stars Gene Hackman as a wiretapping expert in San Francisco who stumbles into a mystery and finds himself obsessed with finding out the answers, no matter what. This may be one of the best paranoia thrillers ever made – and it'll almost certainly make you wonder who is listening and why,

The other movie is "Network" (1976), which is just out on DVD in a 30th anniversary edition. Written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet, this amazing prescient movie forecasts almost everything that has gone wrong with television in general and television news in particular over the past three decades. It has some wonderful performances, especially by William Holden and especially Peter Finch as Howard Beale, the "mad prophet of the airwaves." "Network" is astonishingly good, and holds up extremely well…and makes you think during a week when the most important news at times seemed to be where Katie Couric was going to be paid $15 million a year to read the news.

So if I'm reading the news correctly, scientists have now found and authenticated what is being called "the Gospel according to Judas," in which the apostle generally believed to have betrayed Jesus before the crucifixion is now characterized as just following orders. In this gospel, Judas performed a distasteful task in order to advance humanity toward a larger truth.

Beside the fact that this sounds like something out of "The Da Vinci Code," one other thing occurs to me as I read this story and another story in the headlines this morning.

Which is that, in essence, Judas now is employing the Scooter Libby defense.

Or maybe it is Scooter Libby employing the Judas defense.

If I'm reading the news correctly.

There's a question I've been meaning to ask. Questions, really.

I've been jogging for about 30 years, pretty much doing 20 miles a week, 50 weeks a year. Sure, there have been some months that I've taken off because of injury or work or occasional lethargy, but I figure I've run more than 25,000 miles during the past three decades.

So here are my questions:

How come I'm not getting any faster and not getting any thinner?

And how come it never seems to get easier?

Just curious.

Not that it matters. I plan to run the Marine Corps Marathon next October if my knees hold up and my schedule permits. And I plan to keep jogging, four to six miles a day, four or five days a week.

I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,

That's it for this week.

Have a good weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

KC's View: